What does it take to build an awesome commercials VFX team? Find out the right way (and wrong way) to make great commercials straight from an experienced producer.

"Joy" by Psyop. Commercial VFX project produced by Mary Nockles.

“Joy” for Chevy by Psyop. Commercial VFX project produced by Mary Nockles.

You’re currently a freelance VFX producer based out of the Los Angeles area. Walk us through what a freelance producer does and how it may be different from an in-house producer.

I’m essentially a gun-for-hire; same as most other freelancers. I’m brought in when the current staff team needs a little extra help; either for a limited time (e.g. for vacation cover) or until the extra help is simply no longer needed. It’s helpful to be flexible and adaptable – because you never really know what gaps you’ll be filling.

I have the same skills as an in-house Producer – but often need to ramp up quickly with new teams, politics, software and pipelines which might be unfamiliar. The experience with clients is generally the same; but the experience with each unique company culture is always different – and presents it’s own challenges and rewards.

Previously, you worked as a VFX producer at Psyop, Framestore LA, NY and the main Framestore office in London. What are the main differences in how each market operates in terms of hiring talent for projects.

Whether in LA, NY or London – nurturing and hiring the best talent is the top priority for all Producers. In each of the places I have worked, there has been great success in finding young talent through internships, and through relationships with local colleges and graduate programs.

Word-of-mouth recommendations and reputations also carry a lot of weight. No matter where you live, your reputation carries a huge weight in decision making. For instance, a mid-level artist with a great attitude will often be hired over a senior-level artist with a bad attitude.

Toaster Strudel

“Hans Strudel” for Toaster Strudel by Framestore. Commercial VFX produced by Mary Nockles.

A good commercials producer is notable for being able to communicate with clients as well as a team of artists and technical staff. How do you balance the demands of each side of the equation?

Patience and an even keel are essential qualities for any producer. It is your role to protect the project from all angles; so you’re often re-negotiating boundaries and assessing the overall health and balance of the project as you progress. Constant attention to details, clarity regarding priorities and a shovel-full of diplomacy are useful on all sides.

If an artist from film or video games wanted to make the transition over to commercial VFX work, what are the things they should expect? What are the biggest differences?

I’m always a fan of embracing change; so if someone is interested in a new area of work, then they should wholeheartedly explore it. There will be differences in software, skills and details but the right attitude and a willingness to learn will always put you on the right course.

Commercials work has a fast pace, and a demand for high quality work, so it will take time to ramp up to the level of your new peers. Perhaps you’ll consider a lower/introductory rate to allow for this – or you’ll spend your own personal time developing new skills, but this is to be expected of any major shift in skills/medium for an artist.

Along those lines, what are the qualities a producer looks for in candidates when staffing up for a commercial VFX project?

Recruiting new talent is always a gamble. Which is why we place a lot of faith in word-of-mouth recommendations and feedback. Besides looking for an artist with a good eye, and promising skill set, you want a good ‘fit’ for the team.

Being a good team player is essential for remaining productive and surviving in a sometimes stressful environment – and a producer will be sensitive about any potential ‘bad apples’ who may bring down the morale of the team.

Psyop- Toyota

“Hybrid Range” for Toyota by Psyop. Commercial VFX produced by Mary Nockles.

Are there any parts of your job that you wish people had a better understanding about? 

The best thing to understand is that producers are never the ‘bad guys’ – even though they sometimes seem that way. Our priority is managing everyones emotions and expectations simultaneously; and this involves a lot of negotiation. Sometimes we will have battled for hours with a client to try and protect the team from an outrageous comment/request – but then the final negotiation still appears unfair.

What are the best ways to get blacklisted at a company? Without giving names, are there any highlights you can share?

There are some fabulous ways to get blacklisted from any company! But the one I see most often is people over-selling themselves. If you punch above your weight – either in the interview, or in your rate – you are soon going to be exposed. It’s misleading and disappointing for producers, and doesn’t benefit the build of a lasting relationship. It’s best to just be honest on all fronts.